Alison Eyles-Owen, Hill+Knowlton Strategies: Agency executives need to have an eye on the future, a hand on the numbers and a heart for the team
- 25 Septembrie 2014 |
- Alison Eyles-Owen
In an interview with PR Romania, Alison Eyles-Owen, global EVP marketing communications at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, explains why data, insights and connections remain so critical as tools for every PR practitioners. ‘You will never really become a trusted advisor to a CEO or CMO by being a crowd pleaser. You need to add value and sometimes the unspoken perspective’, told us Alison. Read on for Alison’s views on all of this and more.
Where do you think public relations is heading? Do you think practitioners provide the type of counsel and service necessary in today’s world or do you think there is more innovative we should be doing?
PR is becoming increasingly relevant to marketers and the mantra of delivering proof not promises will become more and more evident as transparency increases and the demand for authenticity continues. The challenge for PR practitioners will be in the quality and impact of their creative storytelling as competition in this space grows from creative agencies trying to stretch their scope. Currently, few know how to hook brand stories into cultural moments and authentic influencer needs, better, but PRs can't be complacent and need to command authority as the barometers of audience opinion.
The PR industry is concerned about its ability to bring research and insight into its offering, particularly in terms of getting it funded by clients. What are your views on this?
I’m a passionate believer in being able to use data to shape our communication strategy and there is no doubt that superior work is grounded in untapped or emotionally-relevant insights, but I'd question that there's a disconnect between what marketers demand and what PR agencies can provide. PR agencies are often an organisation's feedback loop to the world. With that in mind it's not a question of selling insight, it's a question of bringing the right analytics to all data available to be able to inform the right approach.
Do you think PR agencies should challenge their clients more?
In my experience, the client teams that win with their clients play a trusted advisor role. To do this, they need to be able to understand a client's challenge but more they need to be ready to make tough calls and give honest counsel. But this takes guts, knowledge and importantly experience. A PR without connectivity to the issue of the outside world loses their ability to challenge, which is why data, insights and connections remain so critical as tools. You will never really become a trusted advisor to a CEO or CMO by being a crowd pleaser. You need to add value and sometimes the unspoken perspective.
Edward Bernays once said that “public relations is the practice of social responsibility.” Do you subscribe to that view?
I’m no expert on Bernays but broadly agree when he asserts that “society demands more of business than goods and services” but for me, it’s bigger and more valuable than simply cause or CSR. I think the responsibility of brands is bigger and the work of Umair Haque in describing “thick value” is a more palatable challenge for all businesses. “Thick value is sustainable, meaningful value” and we’re seeing the likes of WalMart and Nike to rethink the product or service that they provide. In doing so, it moves from a notion of charity to a notion of reciprocal gain. The work we do with brands is to help them, in some cases, find – and others, articulate - their purpose above and beyond the goods or services that they sell to increase how thick the value they provide is to communities.
You are the chief client officer for P&G worldwide. Like any big player, P&G is constantly being judged, whether for its supply chain, or its environmental practices or its marketing to youth. Do you feel it’s your job to engage with critics?
Whether it be Nike, Ford, Unilever or P&G, fundamentally the role of a client service leader is to help a client build its business, brands and/ or reputation. In that context helping to identify the external reality is part and parcel of our role, and in some cases that can include bringing external disagreement to the front, to help shape points of mutual understanding and where appropriate take action. In many cases, clients will have their own deep relationships and understanding of an issue, and in my experience, many are already engaged with their most critical audiences to bring shared understanding or common outcomes, our role is to support the interaction and dialogue.
How do you believe your professional work has shaped your personal beliefs?
I actually believe it’s the other way round, that my personal beliefs have shaped who I am in my professional life, or that at least one has reinforced the other. My grandmother taught me as a child the lesson of ‘do as you would be done by’ and that has stayed true to who I am today. Even when faced with tough or unpopular decisions using that thought as the lens with which you look at a situation or review a decision before it’s implemented has been a revealing compass by which to navigate.
What are the skills a CEO of a PR agency needs to succeed over the next decade?
Our industry is talent-rich. I would say that the attributes that means for a CEO is they need to have an eye on the future, a hand on the numbers and a heart for the team… to inspire them to stay and bring out their best.
How do you see growth prospects for the PR industry?
Moving up the creative value chain through provision of insights and heart-opening ideas; the delivery of creative content and a more meaningful role in the new distribution of that content through paid, earned and owned and through unlocking commercial models for content distribution.
Alison Eyles-Owen is head of H+K’s Global Marketing Communications Practice and is a seasoned consumer communications professional advising clients on influencer marketing and advocacy strategies; integrated brand building programmes; digital and social media activation; cause related marketing and experiential campaigns, to help clients actively manage their brand and corporate reputations with multiple audiences. She is passionate about identifying insightful truths that shape compelling communication strategies, using bold creative treatments, to make memorable campaigns that deliver business building results.
Alison joined Hill+Knowlton Strategies in 1994 and has over 20 years of brand marketing and communication experience; she has deep sector knowledge within FMCG, food & beverage, automotive, retail & leisure industries and sustainability.
BDR Associates,the strategic communication and public relation agency, is the exclusive affiliate of Hill + Knowlton Strategies in Romania, part of WPP, one of the largest international communication groups in the world.
Interview by Dana Oancea. Copyright PR Romania.